. . . on the margins

One of my spring joys is sitting in the sun – doing nothing, not even thinking about anything in particular. Just appreciating the warmth, idly noting the lush growth of weeds and admiring the plum tree which has exchanged its scraggy winter look for a flattering shade of green. Once garden shops and nurseries reopen there will be plants to buy, pots to refresh and petunias to plant. That’s then. Right now I sit in the here-ness of a warm spring day and let summer possibilities begin to take root in me. Is this prayer? Or do I pass it over as wasted time or day-dreaming? Are precious times like this an opportunity to sit awhile with God– no words, nothing to do, just be.

Every so often the Pope writes an encyclical, a document that is a cross between an exceedingly long letter and a book. Centuries ago wrote occasional circular letters to keep the far-flung bishops of the world in touch with church teachings and doctrine. Francis has been Pope since 2013 and in that time he has written 3 encyclicals- the first about religious faith, followed by one addressing environmental issues and now, a third, titled Fratelli Tutti, which sounds  like a new flavour of gelato, but is actually the first two words of a reflections on the needs of our times. John Allen, who writes extensively on Church matters, describes it as “an extended meditation on political and economic life in the early 21st century, including the impact of the coronavirus crisis.” Before you ask, no, I haven’t read it yet. It’s approximately 40,000 words long and written in what I call church-speak. I hope that as religious writers delve into what has been described as a baggy elephant of a document, they will make it easier for people like me to read and absorb the wisdom of Pope Francis.

It’s ten years since St Mary MacKillop was canonised. She was a girl from my hometown Melbourne, who followed an inner prompting that led her into the lives of the poor and disadvantaged across the country. In slums and struggling country towns Sister Mary and those who came to join her lived out the Gospel as they saw it unfolding before their eyes. She was a humble woman with a healthy ego. To use an Australian expression, she was a woman who “stuck her neck out” and in the process got things done. When challenged by the ecclesiastical authorities about her innovative practices, she was able to respond respectfully, confidently and humbly because she knew that she was simply a channel of the ongoing action of God’s Spirit. She was a great woman, a powerful woman, but she never claimed it as her own. She was never full of herself, only full of God.I am proud of Mary MacKillop, proud too that she is recognised as an Australian who did something about the rights of all to education and a decent standard of living.

Accept surprises that upset your plans, shatter your dreams, give a completely different turn to your day, and, who knows, your life. Leave the Father free, to weave the pattern of your days.  (Dom Helder Camara 1909 – 1999)

judith@judithscully.com.au

A Skylight

In mid- January this year a hail storm knocked out my bathroom skylight, peppered our flat roof with tiny dints and left cracks and holes in the laser light that runs the length of the back veranda. The storm over, we secured a tarp over the hole in the bathroom ceiling, cleared the veranda, and notified our insurers.

That same day a man from Wuhan in China flew into Melbourne. Six days later Victoria Heath confirmed him as Australia’s first case of coronavirus. Two happenings, unconnected, but that have run on parallel lines in my life ever since. 

The tarp blocked out the main source of light in the bathroom but I told myself that a darkish bathroom isn’t particularly important. Summer ran its course and autumn morphed into winter and it had become a habit to switch on the bathroom light as I walked in. But I missed the sun light, in daylight, the life it brought.   

Meanwhile all around the world more important things were happening. What first seemed to be a flu-like epidemic rapidly became a pandemic. You know the rest of this ongoing story -borders shut, shops, workplaces, schools and churches closed, along with gyms, theatres, restaurants and cafés. Employment changed and plummeted. We were urged, advised, and eventually legally required to isolate in our homes. We did as we were told, but as the weeks, then months, have stretched out, our resilience and acceptance of endless restrictions has become harder to live with and a darkness of spirit has resulted.  

In her poem Abundance Marlene Marburg wrote:
This dark time flirts with me in subtle, joyous ways.
Silence, space and solitude are the lenses through which I see
the kaleidoscopic invitation to be and to become.

The mystic John of the Cross wrote poetically and at length about the way dark time experiences can befuddle thinking and the way we assume life is going to be. He was familiar with anxiety, depression, loneliness, frustration, boredom and even heartache, comparing them to the darkness of a Spanish night. If he was around today he’d probably tell us we’re living in a communal dark night of the soul – one that sometimes feels as though it will never end.

In the spirit of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christianity teaches that painful experiences have the potential to push us out of whatever comfy spot we had settled for and edge us beyond into a life that is less selfish and more life-giving. Darkness always gives way to light.

This week, nine months on, my bathroom tarp was replaced with a large, rectangular, glass skylight and instantly the room was flooded with spring sunshine. I looked up and saw the sky and the gently moving eucalypt leaves of the world outside my lockdown. I noticed what had been there all the time, not just the ceiling cobwebs and my aging skin, but a light that has begun edging its way into me, looking out to a future that will be very different from how I imagined it in January. The Light is in my Now, and it says, “I am with you all days”.                                                        

Judith Scully